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‘Big River’ documentary explores farming impacts

‘Big River’ documentary explores farming impacts


Filmmakers Curt Ellis, Ian Cheney and Aaron Woolf, creators of the Iowa-focused documentary “King Corn,” are returning to Iowa with a short film, “Big River: A King Corn Companion.”

The 30-minute documentary explores the ecological consequences of industrial agriculture. Iowa Environmental Council and Practical Farmers of Iowa will host a joint fundraiser and screening of both films at 6 p.m. Jan. 7 at Fleur Cinema, Des Moines. The event costs $20.

A reception at 6 p.m. will welcome filmmaker Woolf. “King Corn” will be shown at 7 p.m. and “Big River” at 8 p.m. Woolf will host a short question-and-answer session after the films.

In “King Corn,” Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, best friends from college on the East Coast, moved back to the heartland to plant and grow a bumper crop of America’s No. 1 grain on one acre of Iowa soil. But when they tried to follow their genetically modified, herbicide-treated crop into the food system, what they found raised troubling questions about what is subsidized and how we eat.

“Big River” brings the two friends back to Iowa on a new mission: to investigate the environmental impact on their acre of corn to people and places downstream. Ellis and Cheney trade in their combine for a canoe and travel south on the network of rivers that connects their acre to the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico.

Along the way, flashbacks to the soil they plowed, the pesticides they sprayed and the fertilizer they injected lead to new questions, explored by new experts in new places. From the heartland to the hypoxic “dead zone” in the Gulf, “Big River” examines the hidden impacts of industrial farms.

The film’s release comes on the heels of the Environmental Protection Agency’s reopening an investigation into the safety of Atrazine, a leading herbicide used on corn farms; and in the wake of $320 million in federal funding to reduce fertilizer runoff in the Mississippi basin.

The Eagle View group of the Sierra Club hopes to bring the film to the Quad-City area for the March 27 Environmental Film Fest, vice chairman Jerry Neff  said.

Learn more about the film at



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